The Art of Publicity

Publicity, as opposed to advertising, is a practical marketing tool in any economy and even more so in tight times. Any architect, designer or custom builder trying to stay visible while minimizing expenses should consider publicity now more than ever.

Purchasing advertising space in a newspaper or magazine, or 30 seconds of airtime, can drive broad-based awareness. It can be expensive, however, and in today’s saturated market it’s tough to stand out and get noticed.
Publicity, on the other hand, can deliver widespread exposure through nonpaid means. It is often viewed more credibly than advertising and tends to do a better job of capturing audience interest. With the variety and volume of media today, there are ample opportunities to reach potential customers.

Working the Media

By understanding how members of the media make decisions, you can pitch — and land — a story. They are not experts; they interview experts like you. And they do this knowing there’s a deadline looming and a news hole to fill. Your job is convincing them your story is worthy of filling that hole.

Keep reading for advice on gaining media attention and shaping a story’s favorable outcome. For additional tips and examples, visit

As business owners, you should be eager to share your successes with media. If you’re well prepared when you approach the media, you’re more likely to have success.

Start by defining your publicity objectives. Do you want to position a company spokesperson as an expert, or simply build awareness of your business? Perhaps you want to help your community understand the value of using a designer. Publicity can counter misconceptions and build credibility. Ultimately, it can drive sales.

Next, consider who you want to reach. Potential customers? Community members who could influence a design review committee? Policymakers who might be voting on your new development? How you define your audience will determine which media you’ll approach.

Now, consider your audience. If your audience is limited to a geographic area, you could pitch a community newspaper. If your audience is a well-defined demographic, you could approach media that hyper-target your audience like radio or a blog. Reaching upscale, design-conscious homeowners is often best done through consumer lifestyle magazines.

Considering your objectives and audience, determine your key messages — the two or three points you want your audience to remember. These messages are brief, conversational phrases (no jargon) tied to your objectives. Limit yourself to three messages since that’s all you’ll remember in an interview, or your audience can remember from a story. Repeat them over and over in an interview and in any written communication. The more you repeat them, the more likely they’ll be conveyed in the story. Metaphors can make a story more quotable.

Types of Publicity

Now, determine the publicity you want. Do you want to become a story source? Do you want a news story about an award? Do you want a feature-length profile about a home? Your desired outcome will determine how you approach the media. Regardless of your goal, you should always track stories in your industry: What topics are being covered? Who’s quoted? What days do the stories run? Which reporter writes them?

To become a story source, identify the most appropriate reporters for your business. Gather reporters’ contact information and make a five-minute introduction call. Tell them about yourself, your experience and your company. Let them know you’re available for comment on future stories. And then stay in touch. Call them after they do a story of interest. Share industry observations periodically. Most importantly, build a relationship with them.

News stories often result from news releases sent to the media. Topics for news releases, or press releases, may include a new product or service, a new hire or promotion, awards or certifications you’ve earned, business partnerships that give you a competitive advantage, or company milestones such as your first LEED-certified home. Inviting media to cover or publicize an event is best done through a media advisory describing the event, and listing the date, time and place. Distribute your news to any and all media reaching your audience.

A feature story takes an in-depth look at your company, or industry trends that your firm embraces. Green building, vacation homes, energy efficiency, outdoor living and executive home design are popular topics for feature stories. Consider pitching reporters you know. If your story has visual appeal — and most home stories do — consider approaching TV if your topic can be explained in the abbreviated time allowed for television segments. If there’s immediacy to your story, pitch newspaper, television or blogs, because monthly consumer magazines work four to five months in advance.

Once you’ve determined who to pitch, write a convincing, noncommercial pitch. Explain why the audience will care about your story. What will they learn? What trend is highlighted? Include your key messages. Suggest possible interview sources and suggest visuals to use such as charts, graphs and photos. Include a few low-resolution photos and indicate if professional, high-resolution, royalty-free photos are available. After you’ve proofread your pitch, send it to the reporter and call in a few days with additional information that may make the story more intriguing. If they decline your story, use their feedback to reformulate your pitch for someone new.

After your story runs, take a few minutes to evaluate your success. Did the story include your key messages? Did it help convince the planning commission to approve your new development? Did you receive an increase in sales inquiries or website visits?

In the end, you’ll find that publicity brings heightened visibility, without the costs of advertising. In today’s economy, you just can’t beat that return.